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Your Nonprofit Strategy: It’s a Walk in the Woods

August 13, 2013

IMG_4923Even the most well-worn woodland trail can be full of surprises as you make your way across bridges, around fallen logs, in and out of tall shadows, and through thickets that rustle with unseen lizards, squirrels and birds.

Our nonprofit work is never completely predictable either, and we have to adjust our plan based on shifting funding climates, the appearance of unexpected challenges, new potential partners.

But we all begin at a starting point, equipped with certain resources and a vantage point of the world that propels us through the work. Our vision for the community and specific objectives–the end points of the trail–await us. How do we get there?

While a good strategic plan includes trail markers to help you decide on the right turns, it’s also adjustable based on changing circumstances. It’s not a rigid course, but helps us know what to say “yes” to as well as what to say “no” to.

(As I recently discovered in a Western North Carolina hike with my husband, saying “yes” to the yellow trail near nightfall was a really, really bad idea. After 30 minutes of hard walking, we realized it didn’t connect with the parking lot. Ah, choices. They can be alluring and deceiving.)

Half of organizations with profiles in The Giving Partner do not have a strategic plan. Why?

Negative experiences with strategic planning are not uncommon. A voluminous “manual” that never gets used, or a strategic planning process that ignores key constituents or realities are often cited as reasons for not doing it. They are understandable. But it’s time to do it right; strategic planning is a process that high-performing organizations undertake and constantly re-visit.

“Real-time strategic planning” is a process described by David LaPiana in which an organization understands the ongoing nature of forming strategies. It guides us to our ultimate goals, but we can change our approaches to accommodate new developments in and around our organizations.

That sounds more natural, yes?

So reach alignment on your 2 or 3-year organizational goals and objectives, with timelines and specific mile-markers along the way, but allow the flexibility to adapt as the environment or circumstances change. Pull out your simple but powerful strategic plan at least once a quarter–or even in every board meeting–to make necessary adjustments.

This process will engage your board, get everyone on the same page about your big picture plan, and motivate your success beyond day-to-day activities.

E-mail me at Susie@CFSarasota.org for more information about how the Community Foundation of Sarasota County works with local nonprofits to facilitate meaningful strategic planning processes.

-Susie Bowie
Community Foundation of Sarasota County

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